These days watching a Royal Shakespeare production is a bit like watching Arsenal at Barnet. The players are there, the skills are there, but the auditorium isn’t.
If you are not devoted to Shakespeare, or you don’t live in England, you’ll not know that about three years ago the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford was knocked down, and they started to build a new one. (It was a rubbish theatre, built at a time when no one was building theatres and they got it horribly wrong, so the rebuild is necessary – but it is taking longer than building the Ems, because the new theatre is on the same site as the old one).
So these days we watch the RSC in the acoustically challenging Courtyard Theatre nearby. Same players but there’s something wrong with the pitch.
Now don’t give up with me on this (even if the thought of watching a play written in 1601 is enough to make you pick up a copy of News of the World for light relief), for there is a link between Arsenal and the RSC beyond the change of stadia.
The programme for “As you like it” (which I saw yesterday) contains a long article on the rehearsal schedule at the RSC. Being (in the eyes of millions) the greatest theatrical company in the universe, the RSC not only takes the very best players but also works on rehearsing a play for longer than most: six months is not uncommon.
I think that in the last six months we have been watching a rehearsal season at Arsenal which is working in a similar way.
Indeed I believe this pre-season has been the culmination of an experimentation in format that started after the 3-0 defeat to Manchester Arab last year.
Now I say all this having not seen most of the pre-season games: in fact I only saw the first (Barnet) and the last (last night) and the latter was watched on my laptop. This incidentally made me realise I need a better laptop – especially now Arsenal TV seems no longer to exist. (Did they scrap it while I was on holiday?)
Last night we saw the experiment take on the shape of Ramsey and Cesc play in the same line up while Van Persie appeared to be playing on his own up front with Bendtner out on the wing.
This does not mean that we are going to see this in the league games. Rather it was the equivalent of Rosalind and Celia (in As You Like It) each holding the end of a piece of bamboo as they circle each other during their long dialogues in As Your Like It. You’re not going to do it in production, but in rehearsal it sure as anything makes the actors feel the relationship between each other and understand what the other is up to.
What brings all this together is the number of times in the pre-season players have played out of position. In fact in the first half of the Barnet game we had virtually everyone out of position at one stage.
But in the context it begins to become clear. Players learn more about themselves and their colleagues, players find out if they can play out of position, and the manager sees alternatives that were never before apparent. Plans B, C and D unfold before your eyes.
All this means that the club will be much more ready to overcome both the different tactics being used against us and the injuries we may expect (and which these days seem to hit us on the industrial scale).
Such explorations can make matches a bit unnerving pre-season, and leads to the continuation of fans demands for more ready-made transfers. But to make such a demand is to miss the main point. A star coming in, already established in a set position, doesn’t always take kindly to being told to experiment playing somewhere else. Some will willingly take it on (I’m fairly sure Arshavin hasn’t played in some of the positions he’s had at Arsenal, while in Russia), but many blow hot and cold.
Thus the drive, in my eyes (and again to admit, I have missed most of the pre-season) has been towards multi-flexibility. That doesn’t mean that against Everton next week we will see a fairly familiar line up. What it does mean is that if things are not going our way in that game, we will have the chance to make 3 changes from the bench, and totally transform our tactics.
Of course most commentators on blogs and in the media disagree, and will always stay with the utterly simple and most common-sense view of the game. As one fan, writing in the Observer today, says, “It feels like Groundhog Day for us Gooners, as le Gaffer sticks faithfully to his strategy (perhaps a necessity not a choice?) of putting all his oeufs in his Young Guns basket.”
To me however it feels and looks like an experiment as remarkable as bringing in Henry and Pires, giving each of them a year to warm up, and then saying, “ok, now go and do your double act”. It is one of those things that you just can’t quite remember when it started happening. Not in the first year of Pires in the club, for sure, but soon into his second year we all realised quite what the Lord Wenger had been up to.
Same sort of thing here. And when it works all the doubters will forget that they ever said a word against the master plan. But what we are getting at the moment is something far more complex than has ever been seen before on a footballing stage.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009.
- Arsenal squad for Europa League game
- The abuse of female footballers is appalling, but there is a wider context
- Why Arsenal v Glimt might be tougher than the game against Tottenham
- Is the team that passes the most, the team that gets the best results?
- Arsenal Women – Champions League last 16 draw – We get the toughest opponents